The first step in filing for divorce is the initial complaint. This document, which is prepared by the plaintiff or his attorney, should name the parties involved and establish the grounds for divorce. Alabama has several grounds, or causes, for divorce, ranging from adultery to irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The complaint will further ask the court to grant the divorce and other requested relief, such as child custody and alimony. A summons, cover sheet and vital statistics information form along with the initial filing fee should accompany the complaint at the time of filing.
Once the complaint has been served upon the respondent, either by certified mail, sheriff or process server, the respondent generally has 30 days answer the allegations of the complaint. The defendant’s answer may either deny all allegations or address each allegation separately, admitting some and denying some. The respondent's attorney may also file a counterclaim at this time, alleging misconduct or shortcomings on the part of the plaintiff. If the respondent is seeking custody or specified visitation with minor children or a reduction in the amount of financial support requested, she should address her specific desires in his counterclaim.
Once the defendant has filed his answer, either party may file discovery motions to obtain information and evidence in support of his position. Discovery may include scheduled depositions, which involve sworn testimony of witnesses to be recorded by a court reporter; interrogatories, which are written questions that must be answered within a statutory time frame; or subpoenas for production of documents, such as banking statements of the other party. Other motions or petitions may be filed with the court at this time requesting temporary child support or visitation pending a final hearing. Any divorce filed in the state involving child support must include Rule 32 child support forms to aid the court in establishing and enforcing child support awards.
Once discovery is complete and all interim motions have been ruled upon, the parties may become involved in detailed settlement negotiations. Issues involving child custody and visitation, financial obligations of the parties, rules regarding cohabitation with members of the opposite sex, and even pets become the subject of these often heated and lengthy negotiations. If settlement is unattainable after negotiation, the court will set a time for a final hearing. At the hearing, plaintiff and defendant may testify along with other witnesses in support of their respective positions.
Once all court requirements have been met and the case heard, the court will ordinarily enter a final decree granting the divorce and resolving all issues, such as child support, visitation, alimony and awards of joint property. If minor children are involved, the court may require proof that both parties have completed parenting classes before awarding the divorce. Appeal times may vary depending on the situation, but generally either party has 42 days after the entry of the final decree to appeal to a higher court.